Text and photography: Jannie Herbst
07:00. It’s a gloomy day in Randburg, with an ominous feel about it. Like a scene from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, just before a major battle.
Cocooned in the plush cabin of a Nissan Pathfinder V9X, we are not concerned about the gloom. Nor is the peak-hour traffic a problem, as we slowly edge our way towards the N1 highway – and ultimately, Lesotho.
I’m towing a 1,5-ton Jurgens Safari Xplorer behind my Pathfinder. The other Pathfinder V9X is following our little train, but the ladies who are driving it are flying solo. They don’t have any vehicle in tow.
We are conducting a bit of an experiment with the two Nissans. In 2010, when we attended a meeting with Nissan’s marketing team, they highlighted the fact that one of the new V9X engine’s greatest attributes was its ability to effortlessly tow things of considerable weight.
Like in really heavy. Up to 3500kg of braked trailer, said Nissan.
The modern new V6 turbodiesel engine churns out 170 kW of power and 550 Nm of torque at a low 1 750r/min. The engine is coupled to a new seven-speed automatic gearbox with a manual function. Add the traction of the Nissan’s advanced four-wheel drive system and, on paper at least, it seems that Nissan’s marketing execs could have a point.
But, on paper, the Vietnam War seemed like a plausible idea at the time. And we all know what happened to Adriaan Nieuwoudt’s “Kubus” scheme in the eighties, which had seemed like a brilliant money-making plan.
So the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
And this is now where our trip fits into the picture. One Pathfinder V9X with three occupants towing a heavy off-road caravan, and with a boot area packed to the rafters with camping kit. And one Pathfinder V9X with four occupants, with a boot packed to the rafters with camping kit.
07:45. The gloom has made way for some sun and clear skies, as we tackle the highway and we get our first proper taste of the Pathfinder V9X, and its towing ability.
Lots of vehicles can tow, no problem. But at speeds of more than 100km/h, the boys are normally separated from the men. This is when power and torque battle against the force of the wind, as the extra drag created by the caravan increases exponentially with every additional kilometre per hour.
The Nissan was evidently leaning towards “MAN”.
Maintaining 120km/h, even with the heavy caravan in tow and the heavy load in the boot and in the caravan, is easier than it is in some smaller-engined sedans! Even up the steeper hills, the Nissan hardly notices the extra load following in its slipstream.
I engage the cruise control – straying over 120km/h with the heavy load is all too easy.
Man, this Nissan can tow on the open road! But we have to wait to see how it handles rough dirt roads, and very, very steep mountain passes.
The first taste of the pudding was good, but far from conclusive.
10:30. We take a break in the Free State town of Bethlehem, after 310km of relaxed highway cruising. It’s also a good opportunity to replenish the Nissans’ fuel tanks.
The Pathfinder sans a caravan requires 51,04 litres to refill, for an average consumption figure of 16,4 litres/100km. My Pathfinder proves to be a lot more thirsty, and gulps down 81,98 litres. That’s 26,44 litres/100km.
I blame it on the super-smooth V6 engine, and the 550 Nm of torque. It’s there to be used, right?
11:30. Fouriesburg is our last port of call before we cross the border to Lesotho. We stop at the local supermarket for the last supplies before we head into the wild frontiers of the Mountain Kingdom. As part of the farewell-to-civilisation ceremony, we also pamper ourselves with some tea and scones at the Fouriesburg Country Inn.
13:21. The Caledonspoort border post is situated where the Great and the Little Caledon rivers meet, in the foothills of the Maluti mountains. The mountains are covered in a most magnificent green blanket, as far as the eye can see. Now the sky seems less angry. Just a little bit grumpy.
The border formalities are dealt with quickly, and without incident. We are in Lesotho. Now for those mountain passes, winding dirt roads, and possibly a rock or three to negotiate, as we make our way towards the Khubelu Valley. And the Mapoka campsite, near the Letseng Diamond Mine.
14:35. Man, this is steep! It’s the Moteng Pass, and most cars battle to get up here under their own steam as they climb more than 2km inside 8km worth of driving distance. Never mind those towing something heavy, like a luxurious Jurgens Safari Xplorer caravan.
It’s switch-back after switch-back. It’s narrow. The gradient is so intimidating that even cycling legends such as Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador would think about taking up kayaking if they landed up here.
And steep drop-offs. They are so high that if you went over the side you’d still have time to phone a friend before meeting with terra firma again.
I tackle the pass with the Pathfinder and the Xplorer. But there is a problem. The automatic gearbox is seemingly refusing to believe that I have the audacity to drive the Pathfinder and the caravan up this pass. Which is probably understandable, considering the gradient. So the gearbox gets stubborn, and refuses to gear down.
I move the gearbox lever to the manual position, and carpet the accelerator pedal. And? whooooosh! Up she goes!
A few minutes later we’re taking photographs at 2820m above sea level. The view from up here is quite spectacular.
15:03. We arrive at the road that will take us the last 8,5km to the campsite next to the Khubelu River. It’s just around the corner now, and we should be there in a jiffy. Interestingly enough, the impregnated clouds now seem much closer, much more impregnated, and much more threatening than before.
15:05. We are now engulfed in the beauty of the green Maluti mountains as we amble towards the campsite on the mountain track. Spirits are high, despite the cloud banks.
15:31. Ah-hah! There’s a bit of a rocky patch coming up. Nothing serious, though, but certainly 4×4-ish. Time for the photography to commence. One never knows when we’ll come across another rocky section. It could be many kilometres. Or maybe not at all.
15:38. Another rocky patch! Things are certainly looking up for the photography side of the story.
15:48. Oh. Another rocky patch. Oh well, we got a nice shot at the previous section. We’ve got the rocky patches covered for now, as far as photography is concerned.
15:50. Right. A rocky patch. And is that rain on the windscreen? Mmm. It is.
15:52. Rocky patch. A bigger one this time, with bigger rocks. I select low-range through the Nissan’s dial-a-4×4 dial in the centre console. You never know, you know.
15:55. In the distance another rocky section looms. But before we can get there, we have to negotiate a section of muddy clay, with water streaming over it. The rain has now turned the half-decent dirt track into a slippery sludge. The Pathfinder starts sliding, but I keep my foot steady on the throttle, and the Nissan’s advanced four-wheel drive system pulls us through. Just. Man, this is slippery.
Oh bother. I was so busy concentrating on not getting stuck that I didn’t even think of taking a photograph. Oh well. Maybe there will be more opportunities.
15:57. Ah! Another muddy patch. I must just remember to take a photograph. But? the Nissan and the Xplorer start sliding in an ominous manner towards the side of the supposed “road”. Concentrate! Concentrate!
Finally, we’re through.
Ag no. In between keeping us alive and not rolling down a mountain, I’d forgotten about the photos again. Better get my priorities right here! Photos are very important, after all.
16:11. Rocky patch. A big one, with boulders strewn about. I aim the Pathfinder and Xplorer through, at crawling speed. Dwaaa! Oh-oh, that didn’t sound healthy.
Dwaaa! Another hit. The Nissan and the Xplorer are sliding off the slippery, rain-drenched rocks. But I’m still
in control. Sort of.
16:24. This may sound strange, but I’m now looking forward to rocky patches. The muddy sections in between are as slippery as ice. And the track has now grown steeper, as we descend into the Khubelu valley. It’s raining cats, dogs, mountain goats and donkeys.
16:46. Oh dear. Oh dear. The Xplorer has lodged itself on a big boulder. The Pathfinder can’t budge it. We jack up the Xplorer with the Nissan’s jack, and when it is high enough to clear the offending rock, I gas the Pathfinder, driving the Xplorer off the jack – and over the rock.
We still have about 4km to go before we get to the campsite. And both the Pathfinder and the caravan are already wearing some battle scars.
17:12. The track now gets even steeper. The 1,5-ton Xplorer insists on pushing the Nissan towards the edge of the track, in the slippery mud. On the other side of the edge is a drop-off.
My passengers, Michelle du Plessis and Jacky Hefez are, strangely enough, a little bit edgy.
Jacky starts jabbering about the Lesotho flaura, saying that it closely resembles the Western Cape fynbos. Michelle points out that it doesn’t. Jacky says she knows it doesn’t – she is just relieving the tension with her monotonous jabbering about factual matters that are not factual at all.
17:22. The track gets even steeper, and more slippery. Michelle decides that she has heard all she can handle about the Western Cape’s flaura, and that the sliding towards the drop-off isn’t so much fun anymore. She jumps out in the rain, and joins Leilani and the other three ladies in the second Pathfinder. I wouldn’t have minded doing the same.
17:42. While we yet again slide towards the edge, I formulate my first sentence to tour guide Bernie, who had brought us to this damn mountain, when and if we actually do arrive at the campsite. I get as far as “Dear Bernie?” before my attention is again required to keep myself, Jacky, a Nissan Pathfinder and a Jurgens Xplorer alive.
17:50. “Dear Bernie. I just want to say that?” Whoohah! Big slide! Stand on the brakes, steer, throttle, steer, brake, steer, throttle! Whoohah. That was close.
17:55. “Dear Bernie. I just want to say that I don’t think this was?” Wham! Wham! I’m doing my best to avoid the rocks, but the rig keeps sliding off the slippery boulders. Wham!
I’m beginning to wonder whether there is actually a campsite at the other end of this? this track.
18:09. “Dear Bernie. I just want to say that I don’t think this was a very good id?”
Oh, for crying out loud! Another massive slide! The Nissan’s ABLS and VDC and 4×4 and whatever else systems work their magic. I do my part by standing on the brake pedal, and steering. I briefly try the hill descent control. It helps a little bit, but the conditions don’t really count in its favour. It’s just too slippery, and the caravan that keeps pushing the Nissan down the slope is not helping either.
18:21. The rain has subsided somewhat, but the dark sky is still spitting some droplets our way. “Dear Bernie. I just want to say that I don’t think this was a very good idea, not with a caravan?” Wait! What’s that? Could it be? the campsite? Whoohah! The rig slides, but I deftly bring it back into line. By now I’m quite good at this.
18:28. We arrive at the campsite, and I inspect the damage. The Pathfinder and the Jurgens both have a few scars to prove that they had made it down this track. The Nissan more so than the Xplorer.
Bernie walks up. “That was quite a drive!” he says.
I stare at him for a moment.
“Yes, it was. All three and a half hours of it”
Leilani and her four companions in the brown Pathfinder pull in behind me. All four doors open simultaneously and spew the jittery occupants. In the past hour my respect for Leilani increased tenfold. For someone with very limited 4×4 driving experience she performed a stouthearted task. I hug, thank and congratulate her. Well done Honey Bush!
18:35. I’m bushed. Now I just want to put my feet up.
Geeze? that’s better.
See how the Bush Babes experienced the drama, fun and excitement on page xx
The V9X – the beast within
A black-maned lion, wearing a “tame kitty cat” sticker.
This is Nissan’s new Pathfinder V9X.
Yes, the big and familiar box-shape styling looks virtually identical to the Pathfinder 2.5dCi and four-litre V6 that’s been on sale here since 2006, excluding some minor cosmetic upgrades. In fact, the only real tell-tale signs that this is no average Pathfinder are the subtle “V6” badges on the front doors.
There are a few more signs of an upgrade once you slide in behind the steering wheel. The vast cabin features an improved instrument panel and centre console.
Space has always been a Pathfinder fort?. With seven seats (the last row folds flat into the cargo floor), and enough shoulder and leg room for three rugby players to sit in relative comfort in the second row of seats, the
Pathfinder is a comfortable and spacious SUV for the family man. Or woman. And, with the last two seats folded away, the loading area is big enough to swallow a great deal of camping gear, or shopping bags and a pram or three.
Other upgrades in the cabin include leather of a higher quality than in lesser models, a more comfortable seat design and new, higher-quality trim for the doors and switch gear.
The new centre console houses the optional Nissan Premium Connect “infotainment” system that is coupled to the standard Bose sound system. The infotainment system includes a high-resolution touch screen, 40GB built-in hard drive for storing your favourite songs or movies and a GPS navigation system. It also displays the images of the rear-view parking camera.
Luxury and safety features abound, of course.
The cruise control system on the V9X now features a driver-selectable speed limiter – especially handy considering that black-maned lion living under the bonnet.
Ah-ha. The engine.
Nissan now produces more than a million V6 petrol engines a year, making it the biggest manufacturer of V6 engines in the world. So, when Nissan’s engineers were planning a new turbodiesel powerplant that could serve across several product ranges, the decision to go the V6 route wasn’t a difficult one.
The V9X engine is a brand new design. It features an unusual V angle of 65 degrees as well as compacted graphite iron (CGI) – a new technology introduced only after exhaustive evaluation. The new CGI material, combined with the 65 degree V design, ensures smooth and quiet operation. In fact, quite a few passengers and bystanders refused to believe that is was actually a diesel engine, insisting that it must be petrol-powered.
Ah-ha. The power.
The engine delivers 170 kW of power at 3 750r/min, and 550 Nm of torque at 1 750r/min. But these figures tell only part of the story. The new V6 engine idles at only 650r/min. At 1500r/min, 500 Newtons are already up and running. It tows a 1,5-ton Jurgens Safari Xplorer as if it’s an empty Venter Elite 5 trailer, weighing in at 140kg. And while it does all this, it’s as smooth and as refined as many a petrol V6 engine.
So it certainly is a black-maned lion – but this lion also went for finishing classes.
All this power and torque will send the Pathfinder to a limited top speed of 195km/h, while the 0-100km/h acceleration run is said to take only 9,3 seconds!
Also new for the top-dog Pathfinder is the seven-speed automatic gearbox. This plays the smooth game, and works in perfect unison with the V9X engine. Well, except for the most demanding of situations, such as the Moteng Pass, in Lesotho. But then one can always go the manual route, and you are back in business. The manual function also works well in tough 4×4 conditions.
The Pathfinder V9X features a “permanent” 4×4 system, unlike its lesser Pathfinder siblings that are part-time 4x4s. A dial in the centre console has three settings: “Auto”, 4H Lock and 4LOW. Driving in the default Auto mode the power is, in normal driving conditions, sent to the rear wheels. However, Nissan’s active brake limited slip (ABLS) system will apply braking force to a slipping wheel, and send more torque to the wheels with grip. As a further back-up, the Pathfinder also comes standard with vehicle dynamic control (VDC).
For more demanding 4×4 work there is the 4H Lock function, which locks the drive between the front and rear axles in a 50/50 split. And for the really, really bad patches, such as a certain track in Lesotho, there is also the low-range option. Hill descent control is also standard.
But despite all the fancy traction aids, the massive power and torque, as well as claimed ground clearance of 231mm, the Pathfinder V9X is not a very happy camper on a tough 4×4 track such as the one we encountered in Lesotho. In mud and sand, it really works well, but on rough-and-tough rocky terrain, where clearance and wheel travel are vital, it doesn’t.
Overall though, the Pathfinder V9X is one amazing piece of hardware. The engine is great, and its towing ability unquestionable (even though the Nissan’s tail has a tendency to sag a bit under a heavy weight). The luxury and space of the machine are also impressive.
So, as a luxurious and spacious family SUV that occasionally needs to negotiate some mud and dirt roads, it is hard to fault. Especially with that lion living under the bonnet.
Pathfinder 3.0 V6 dCi 7-speed AT R619 900
Pathfinder 3.0 V6 dCi 7 -speed AT (with Nissan Premium Connect): R644 900